We are in the process of pressing off Semillon, our (real!) last white wine of the year. And as I taste free-run juice pouring into the press pan, I think back to a time a few vintages back when I saw Sergio Traverso, one of the legendary Livermore Valley winemakers, up on the catwalk above the 5000-gallon fermentors at the Wente small-lot winery. He was watching one of the guys pump over Syrah (taking the pumped juice from the bottom of the fermentor and spraying it over the top of the cap). I asked what he was doing, and he answered that some times you just need to see the fermentation process at another angle, to gauge progress by taking the lid off. The reference was to lifting the cover of a pot that you are cooking to gauge the food’s done-ness, and in that way, it was completely relevant to what I do on a daily basis.
It is difficult to contemplate the process of winemaking without the reality of getting your hands dirty. In fact, every sense comes into play when you are converting grapes into nectar. Right now, a pump is running, taking the pressed-off wine from the press pan to a tank, and as its frequency changes you realize that the press pan is nearly empty. As you turn the press to mix up the cap, you can tell by the thwack, thwack that the cap is still very wet. I spend part of each morning digging my hands into the cap of fermenting wine to feel the texture of the skins, and as I bring the cap to my nose, another sense is used to determine the “health” of those skins.
As each press fraction comes off the press, I lift the lid on my wine again to see how much more time is required until that dish is “cooked” to perfection. Growth may be an inevitable need in the marketplace that we are in, but I can guarantee that we will never be so big that we can’t lift the lid to make sure the wines we make are the best they can be.